Worship - Lesson 10

Book Discussion 2

Discussion of two books: "Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time," by Marva J. Dawn, and "Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense," by John M. Frame.

Lesson 10
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Book Discussion 2


This is a review on the book, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for this Urgent Time, by Marva J. Dawn. It includes some points from the book, Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense, by John M. Frame. This discussion will be helpful even if you have not read the books.


Dawn’s work is quoted as being an apology for the idea that for using classical music and traditional worship and it is the only artistically, aesthetically appropriate right way to worship God. However, churches like Willow-Creek in the Chicago area employ contemporary worship strategies to connect with people in their community in order to reach people with the gospel message.


Dawn makes some theological points about congregational worship being primarily for God and also for spiritual formation of believers. There are different views on how the Sabbath described in the Old Testament and how believers worship in the New Testament are connected.


Dawn may have not adequately researched the content of contemporary music and the impact it is having on individuals and congregations. However, it’s important to be thoughtful about using terms like “Ebenezer” and “catholic” in a way that people in the congregation will understand what they mean. “Meet me where I am and help me go where I need to go.”


It is important to train worship leaders on a regular basis to give them tools and strategies that promote the spiritual life of the church. It’s also important to train the congregation about the significance of worship and the meaning of the elements of the worship service.


Both contemporary and liturgical styles of worship can be effective in a congregational service. The culture of the church should change as the people of the church grow in their understanding of their relationship to God and how they live their lives. Seekers might respond to and benefit from being in a catechumenate program.


Intergenerational and intercultural interaction are important elements of church life to be aware of.

Class Resources
  • Worship consists of both revelation and response.

  • Worship is described in both the Old and New Testaments and requires active participation.

  • Worship is focused on the character of God and involves every aspect of our lives.

  • The First Commandment instructs us about who God is and that we should worship only Him.

  • The Second Commandment instructs us to not worship images.

  • The Third Commandment instructs us to not use God's name in a dishonorable way.

  • Commandments four through ten emphasize the Sabbath, honoring your parents, loving your neighbor as yourself, and charity.

  • Discussion of the book "Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace," by James B. Torrance. Also a discussion of the idea of revelation and response, and cultivating a lifestyle of worship are important elements in biblical worship. It is a challenge to develop an adequate understanding of who God is and how we should approach Him.

  • Jesus tries to dispel misconceptions about true worship when He has a discussion with the woman at the well in Samaria. The Holy Spirit plays an active role in guiding us to worship in Spirit and in truth. Jesus is the true worship leader. Worship transcends and includes all cultures and races. Worship celebrates the first coming of Jesus, looks forward to His second coming, and prays that His presence will be manifest in the present.

  • Discussion of two books: "Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time," by Marva J. Dawn, and "Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense," by John M. Frame.

  • Including elements in a worship service like prayer, scripture reading, communion and songs of praise can help people have an authentic worship experience.

  • Discussion of "Ancient-Future Worship," by Robert Webber from the "Ancient-Future Worship Video Series."

  • It is important to choose theologically balanced songs with music appropriate for the people. The worship leader is an extension of the congregation and should prepare the material and the worship team so they can communicate effectively and appropriately. It is important for praise team leaders to choose praise team members that are qualified spiritually and musically, then encourage and guide the team members effectively.

  • Continuing discussion of "Ancient-Future Worship," by Robert Webber from the "Ancient-Future Worship Video Series."

  • The structure of the worship service is centered around gathering, the service of the Word, the service of the Table and dismissal. Elements of a worship service include songs, scripture reading, offerings, sacraments, prayer and affirmation of faith.



These lectures were given at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary during the summer of 2001. The purpose of this course is to consider together the relationship between worship and Christian formation and implications of this for the design and leading of community worship experiences.

Some specific questions we will be asking include: What is worship? What is Christian formation?How are these related? What can we learn from worship and spiritual formation in the Old and New Testaments that will help us in designing and leading worship experiences today? What can we learn from worship and spiritual formation in the history of the Church that will help us in designing and leading worship experiences today? How do the various worship traditions and styles shape Christians? What are some of the theological principles that guide us in our thinking as we plan and lead worship experiences? How does/should worship interface with a third great task of the Church—evangelism? What are some practical concerns that we must consider as we plan and lead worship experiences? 

Dr. Gary Parrett
Book Discussion 2
Lesson Transcript


I. Book Review

This is a review on a book by Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time and also includes points from the book John M. Frame, Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Défense. Marva Dawn presents herself somewhat as a critic against contemporary charismatic worship and lifestyle of the church. Whereas, John Frame tries to counter this in describing the other side of her argument. Points are presented on both sides with some clear examples. You will understand both the negative and positive aspects of what Marva Dawn is saying as you listen to the MP3 and read the transcription.

A. Point 1 – An Apology

Dawn’s work is quoted as being an apology for classical music and traditional worship. This quote continues by saying unlike traditional hymns, praise choruses praise God and make God central whereas many hymns also praise God and ask God to do things for us and so, we become central. This critic continues to say negatively that a better title for Dawn’s book should be dumbing down without reaching out. So, Marva Dawn’s book claims that there is only one artistically, aesthetically appropriate right way to worship God. Dawn seems to dislike contemporary worship in any form. Now, Frame’s book sets himself up as sort of answering Marva Dawn. We need to keep in mind, that there are such varieties of people and backgrounds and cultures and worshipers; even if we pick, for example, New England and the variety of worshipers there. They will be drawn to the Lord and transformed by him through different styles unlike what we may be drawn to. So, just imagine the varieties that exist in different places around the world. God is more interested in what is going on in the hearts of worshipers and how they respond to him. What we may be comfortable with, others may not feel the same. What we may think valuable, others may not think the same. The point should not be that we are supposing to get it right and for each of us in our own ministry; however, it would be very helpful for us to have a philosophy grounded in Scripture in planning and designing worship experiences. So, our commitment should be to do this stuff biblically, thoughtfully and carefully. The commitment that we have in our own ministry doesn’t necessarily give us the authority to become the judge or critic of what is going on around with others.

B. The Willow-Creek Movement

For example, in regards to the Willow-Creek movement, which was started around October 12, 1975. Since then, the building has doubled in size and the property expanded to 155 acres. The changes included a new worship center with more than 7,000 seats, which replaced the 4,500-seat Lakeside Auditorium. At the time they became the largest church in the States reaching 24,000 people in the Chicago area. But in March 23, 2018, the Chicago Tribune published an article detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by a former Senior Pastor spanning decades, including a prolonged affair with a married woman, though this was retracted by the woman herself. The Tribune wrote that elders of Willow Creek had conducted an internal review of the senior pastor’s behavior which led to no findings of misconduct. So, after hearing criticism from circles that I hang in; you become involved by throwing your punches in like others. However, the more I thought about it, my response in looking at what they do on Sunday morning, I don’t think I would do the same thing as they do. However, they are reaching a lot of people, doing what God has called them to do and they have been very effective in reaching a lot of people that I could never reach with the Gospel. We can relate to this in the Scriptures where Paul, himself, hears of people preaching in the name of Jesus; whatever the reason, he rejoices that the Gospel is being preached. I think we need a little more of this spirit. If it isn’t heretical, we don’t need to expend our energy critiquing it; we need to attend to our own ministry and do it as well as we know how. We can honestly say, God bless them in their work. The reality is that we don’t have the full knowledge and none of us have it all figured out, for we will never escape our own cultural lenses. What is critical here; we need to form our own theology and our own philosophies in ministry. But know that God will use different means to reach different people.

C. Point 2 – Important Theology

However, in regards to these books, I think Dawn does do a nice job in her book of setting up some important theological points about worship. There are also some justified criticisms that she raises about confusing worship with evangelism, for example. Now, I share her concern that we take what ought to be first for God which is the Sunday gathering of people, and second for the formation of believers. We never lose sight that perhaps unbelievers may be present with us, but we don’t let that drive the experience. So, I think this is what she is concerned about. Theologically, I don’t mind having services that are designed for unbelievers, but we shouldn’t call this the worship service of the church. The worship service is first and foremost for God; second, it is a gathering of believers in which we are obligated to instruct. Thirdly, we should always keep our eyes and minds open in regard to being hospitable to unbelievers who may be present with us. Referring back to Willow-Greek, so, the way they do ministry may not be the way I would do ministry, but I will not be leading the charge against them. And, in regards to the Sabbath, I don’t think that Sunday is carried forward in the New Testament as the Sabbath for Christians in terms of law. It is an example that is given to us, rooted in the early history of the church for gathering together on the Lord’s Day. However, I don’t know whether Sunday has to be the Lord’s day. I want to do it that day to honor the resurrection and the tradition of the church. So, my preference would let Sunday mornings be for the believers and have another service for unbelievers. That is the way I would do it.

D. Romans 14:4

In Romans14:4, Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. This is a discussion in Paul’s letter about Christians coming to different points of conviction about disputable matters. Should we eat certain foods or not; the next verse says that one man considers one day more important than another while another man considers every day the same. Let each one be convinced in his own mind. In light of these disputable matters, this is a fundamental obligation which Paul says that we should have. Don’t think that you have authority to judge someone’s else’s servant. This is about a fellow believer who is a servant of the Lord Jesus. Jesus has authority to judge that person, you don’t. He will stand or fall to his own master and he will stand, no matter what your think; if he is a servant of the Lord, he will stand. It will not be by his own merit or his own goodness but God will make him stand. I am grateful that on the final Day of Judgment, it will not be my brother or my sister on the throne, it will be the Son of Man. He has been given the authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. It will be the Lord on the throne. Worship is not a disputable matter in the sense that we are obligated to worship. I think some of the particular forms of worship and styles are considered differently by different people as Romans 14:5 indicates. Someone might be really dogmatic in saying it has to be on Sabbath Day or the first day, Sunday. I am not sure whether or not we can be dogmatic about this. If you want to be dogmatic, then go back to what God really wants; we love him and love our neighbor as ourselves and that we do justice and love mercy. This is the clear unmistakeable requirement. However, it does get problematic here, for in the broad picture of the church we have another saying of unity, liberty, and charity. When you get into the hard work of doing this, then churches disagree on what is essential and what isn’t essential.

E. Point 3 – Inconsistencies and Contradictions

Dawn sets up some good concerns for us and it is a fair case to say that she has some inconsistencies and contradictions. She says one thing but has a hard time following through with it. She says that she is open to the new and the progressive and the contemporary. Again, we all come with our own sets of lenses and experiences and preferences; however, it is difficult to climb out of our own cultural skin. In fact, it is impossible. At best, we can come to appreciate other cultures but we can never escape our own. I think this is what happens with her. It is a fair criticism that she hasn’t adequately researched what she is criticizing, for she has determined that some of the contemporary praise music wasn’t worth her time to study it out. So, she is going more on what she has experienced which isn’t very much. She depends far too much on anecdotal evidence and limited exposure and experience and she extrapolates far too much. Some of the things that she singles out in terms of criticism, I don’t think she has dealt with them very fairly. Frame makes this point as well. Important points that she makes; God is the subject and object of our worship. It fair to say that we are misguided if we think that the way to really attract unbelievers is to simplify and water down and dumb down; this is a fair concern.

F. Ebenezer and Catholic

Let’s come back to Ebenezer as being a great example of where the church is not particular thoughtful. Is it true that most people in the church wouldn’t know about Ebenezer? If I was singing a hymn and the word Ebenezer came up; why would that be an intriguing word? It is a biblical word that recalls a biblical story of the Ark. It is a place where the Philistines captured the ark from the Hebrews. One word captures a whole biblical narrative and because of the decrease in biblical literacy, people don’t know it. So, the church takes the word out of the hymns and creates a more user-friendly hymn. So, in doing this, we have capitulated to biblical illiteracy. Instead of saying that it’s bad, we have just thrown it out. This do this sort of thing everywhere. I have written a lot of praise songs and recently I have written some hymns also. If it is a legitimate translation issue, that would be one thing. But, to just go through and edit such important biblical references out is wrong. When churches do recite the creed and they stumble over the word Catholic, thus deciding to change the word; we are missing a teachable moment and robbing the church of something really rich because Catholic isn’t a reference to the Roman church; it’s an ancient word that was very critical and particularly chosen for that point of the Creed as there is no other word that captures what that word does. It is about the Church of Jesus Christ spanning the globe having no biases in one direction or another. It is a word that we need; it is part of our heritage. We need to take time to explain such words. Any theological term that we think important could be eventually done away with such as justification, sanctification or trinitarian, for example.

G. Help People Go Where They Need to Go

So, there is no logical end once you start down this path. Why not rather teach on these terms. Remember the maxim, meet me where I am, help me go where I need to go. Sometimes, it is appropriate to meet people at a certain point, but we need to be committed to the idea that we are going to move our people along. If I have been worshipping with people for twenty years, they should be different people from the time I first met them. I shouldn’t have to come up with creative ideas to keep their attention. Sometimes, we just sell people short; we capitulate far too early and lower the expectation unnecessarily ending up with the opposite of the intended affect. Lowering the expectation eventually discourages people. When I was a youth pastor, I gave the kids adult-level Bible studies and Bible college kind of experiences. So, we have to meet people where they are at. We have to be committed to where we are going with them. So, if we are committed to contemporary styles of praise, sometimes we are guilty of inadequate preparation than someone in a very formal setting; people will make sure all the information is available in any formal meeting. Sometimes in a contemporary approach, we aren’t as thoughtful as we should be in terms of setting this up well. For example, for introducing a new song, print out the melody line and information pointing the song back to Scripture giving them an automatic element that is accessible to them. If we are going to have responses throughout the service; those responses need to be accessible for everyone who comes to church. You could even print the doxology out or have it on the overhead. There could even be a welcome packet for first-time visitors. One such church had a bookmark made available explaining what people might see during a worship service.

H. Point 4 – Training

Marva Dawn also mentions the practice of having training times for new hymns. We could also have training for worship in general. This is such a critical area in the life of the church; it would make a lot of sense to have even a seminar once a year. This could include individual roles and processes with basic understandings. Another church that I know changed their Sunday School time and name to a Thursday afternoon café experience and everything on Sunday morning is focused on worship with the younger children having their own worship experience. They are introduced to what they will be experiencing in regular church. Someone points out that perhaps Dawn is only speaking to her own denomination in her book. This is a valid point as we read it, we are really jumping into somebody’s else’s conversation. She seems to be speaking primarily to other Lutherans and mainline denominations. Don Hustad has a book called True Worship. He says that his book is something of an equivalent of Marva Dawn’s book for more garden variety evangelical churches. So, he has written a similar book for Baptist and Community Churches; for those who aren’t in the mainline denominations. We talked about liturgical worship in general dying. Most of the evidence from Marva Dawn’s book would say the opposite. Liturgical worship is enjoying a resurgence today. There are a lot of people that are attracted to such liturgy, especially people who have been hanging around evangelical churches and are tired of the shallowness of it. They are also tired of the myth of spontaneity. They are hungry for something a little deeper and rooted with history behind it. This is especially true for young people, but I wouldn’t want to overstate this, simply because there are such a variety of people. For what works in one setting may not work in another setting. One such place, Gordon College are trying to relive the catacombs by darkening the chapel making it quiet trying to create something ancient with a contemporary flavor to it.

There was a time a few years back where they had an Ash Wednesday Service where every single element was explained in the service such as the history and theology. This was received very positively. There is a hunger for meaningful things such as this. Relating to this, we have discussions just about every year on why some of our students have left the evangelical church and moved over to the Orthodox or Catholic church. Part of the reason; evangelicalism hasn’t done a very good job addressing issues of spirituality. We have reduced the doctrine of salvation to the doctrine of justification; we don’t really talk about sanctification and offer help in that way. The other element is worship; our worship is so often shallow, merely cognitive and so people are hungry for something else and out of that hunger, they leave evangelicalism. We need to address salvation more holistically and connecting with things deeper. We need to move beyond the cognitive and address the whole person in our worship. The blending of the charismatic and liturgical is sweeping the world. This is Robert Webber’s passion.

I. Point 5 – Worship and Christian Formation

Sometimes, while I think Marva Dawn is right with confusing worship with evangelism, sometimes she is guilty on the other side of confusing worship with Christian formation or education. I think Christian formation is one of the concerns of the worship experience. Sometimes, we can elevate that also above worship. Both of these books may be examples of bad listening. Frame did a little better in listening to Marva Dawn than she did in listening to the contemporary worship movement. Perhaps he overstates his case a bit, but he tried. I also think that he is a little harsher on her than he needs to be. He doesn’t give her as much credit as he might, but I think he has tried to understand and respond thoughtfully and biblically to her. Both of them could be better listeners. We, also, should become good listeners. I think the blending of the two in terms of the charismatic and liturgical would be a great way to go. One of the interesting findings from Barna who researched people that weren’t in church and asked whether they would be more attracted to a more traditional church with hymns, etc. or would they be more attracted to a more contemporary service? Overwhelmingly, people said that they wanted church to feel like church. More people we would call seekers would be more interested in the liturgical than contemporary praise songs. Again, variety is the reality here because of the varieties within our culture. Some of the Willow Creek model is being transplanted and tried to be reproduced in other places; it worked very well in some places but in other places, it didn’t work at all.

J. The Catechumenate

There will always be new people coming in and old people leaving. How do we account for this and respond to it? Does this invalidate the principle in the culture of a congregation, whether or not it should be changing over time? There will be something of a revolving door with new people coming in, but the overall culture of a church should change as the church itself matures with a deepening capacity. One such model for a church could be with a few mature people and a lot of immature people. That would be a good church plant in my mind. You would have people who are seekers; this is the reason you would plant a church. You would be able to reach a neighborhood in new ways and draw in people who are seekers or people who are coming back to church. They start off at one level and that is the overall level of the church and we would want to deepen them. Some mature churches present a deep seminary-level sermon. Such a culture didn’t just happen; it took work and lots of teaching. It started small and it was built over time. When a newcomer walks in, they see the culture that dominates the church. Another thing that comes to mind; there was the practice of the catechumenate, a 2nd or 3rd-century informal school of the faith where people came forward and identified as seekers; they were put on a very intentional training in the faith. This led eventually to a full embrace into the congregation. I think this is the right age for a renewed catechumenate. People are much more open and honest now about being seekers than they were twenty or thirty years ago. In those days, we moved under the myth that we lived in a Christian culture with everyone being a Christian by virtue of being borne American. Today, people are upfront about saying that they are interested. So, we can do a better job in identifying people who are seekers through this. In the ancient catechumenate, this took as long as three years to prepare them to enter into the body. After this, everybody celebrated in their baptism and inclusion into the church.

When they join the faith, they join the worship service where it is primarily directed to God and to the formation of believers. The problem is, we have so many things going on in the church which may not necessarily be all that helpful and beneficial and edifying. They are going on because that is what churches do. If we could eliminate from the overall schedule of the church some of the things that are not very essential, perhaps we would have more time for more important things. I’m not talking about that much time, so perhaps six or so months meeting once a week. This isn’t a large demand on their lives. If they are not really ready to give this time, perhaps they are not where they should be in regards to seeking. The Alfa Course is one example of what we are talking about; you are upfront and intentional with seekers. It is an eleven-week program where seekers are introduced to Christianity in a very significant and serious way. They are taught the basics of Christianity. It is upfront and intentional with no hidden agendas. There are some believers present and also some fun components. There is even a retreat component built into the process. It is one way for the church to get intentional about this. Sadly, even with people who have been around for a while, don’t know anything because we are so unintentional in moving from point A to point B. We kind of expect it somehow to happen when it doesn’t! It never does. A good model for this could be a church planting model with immature people with a goal of raising them to maturity.

K. Point 6 – The Nature of the Church

Another concern of Marva Dawn is on a different level and we have to enter into her Lutheran world to understand this. The Lutheran church sort of led the way in this dual service idea. Whenever you see a Lutheran church, most likely you will always see two signs in front: traditional service and contemporary service. But she was bothered by this division because of the division of family and generation. There is something lost here but something is gained. There are other significant theological problems including the issue of the nature of the church. What is the church anyway? This is not only related to the worship wars. I had a problem keeping up with all of the points John Frame uses. The church growth movement sometimes argues for the homogeneous unit where you pick a target audience and plant a church around them. You could see this at work, again, at Willow-Creek where they targeted a particular kind of person. In some of Marva Dawn’s other books, she hammered this point. Is this really church? Church shouldn’t just be a place of people like me where we really enjoy each other. The nature of the church is people who are drawn together by Jesus Christ. She actually argues that we really need to find people that we dislike and go to church with them. In regards to this homogeneous principle, in a sense we deny this powerful claim of the Gospel seeing it work in different cultures and lives. In Christ, there is no East and West with no walls of hostility. This can also happen in dividing the generations of people in church to worship differently. I don’t take the hard stand that Marva Dawn takes on this because I see this as part of the principle of meet me where I am and help me go where I need to go. The homogeneous unit makes a lot of sense evangelistically. A lot of people will be drawn together through other means, but we will see that the church isn’t a private little club and grow beyond these borders. We will learn that we are part of something much larger than ourselves.

Know that others are as dogmatic as Marva Dawn, such as Gordon Fee. But, one reason I have such a hard time with Marva Dawn. Both basically think that the New Testament knows nothing about an ethnic church. I have a problem at a socio-cultural level here. It depends on what we mean by saying this. It is a little too easy in America right now for those who are part of the dominant culture to talk negatively toward a non-dominant separate ethnic-cultural church. We want them to hang their culture out the door and become white like us. This can’t happen. Already the ethnic-cultural person feels that he or she is already playing by someone’s cultural rules and can’t be truly him or herself except in their own church on Sunday. There are problems with this. Yes, there is truth as to where we are aiming, but we live in a very fallen world. If I am going to ask someone to leave their culture at the door and come into my church. We shouldn’t do that unless we also are willing to be equally changed when we worship together. But, in principle, I agree that this homogeneous unit is what is comfortable for us generationally, but finding the comfort zone is not necessarily what worship should be. We always resist learning to coexist under one head and thus the body isn’t what the body needs to be. The reality is, that in Christ all the walls were torn down but we are more comfortable with those walls and we try to rebuild them all the time. Back to the Willow Creek issue where they frankly say they want to focus on two groups; the seekers on Sunday and the more mature on another day. But they do have an overt openness and intentionality.

As a youth pastor in a Korean church; we had second-generation youth and 1st generation adults and we always worshipped separately. It always grieved me having the generations separated. But culturally and language-wise, we were sort of driven to that. They spoke different languages and culturally, they were very different. The first generation born and raised in Korean and the second generation born and raised in America. Culturally, they were different and even the heart language was different. You could never substitute the heart language. So, I have seen churches where they try to do everything bilingual and it most cases it didn’t work. A good compromise was coming together once a month with the knowledge that we were one church.